With one of the least experienced rosters in the WNBA, Washington Mystics Coach Mike Thibault often cited the same deficiencies from one game to the next as the cause for his club’s uneven beginning to the season. Lack of ball security and poor shooting were among the main culprits, and following a loss to the visiting Atlanta Dream on June 15 that included 21 turnovers, the Mystics had much to address heading into a four-game road trip.
Washington opened that swing by losing three in a row, but the mistakes that had plagued the team in the early stages became less frequent, leading Thibault and his players to remain optimistic even in the midst of that slide. The Mystics, for instance, committed a season-low nine turnovers in a loss to the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx a week ago and made 68 of 132 shots (51 percent) over their next two games.
“I think the biggest thing in this league is you can turn it around really quick,” Mystics guard Kara Lawson said. “You can’t lose faith or your confidence, either as an individual or as a team, because you’re never that far out of it. That’s the biggest challenge sometimes. It’s more mental than anything. Stay confident in yourself, stay confident in your team, just that belief that once we get one, we’re going to get a bunch of them.”
Heading into Friday night’s game against the Connecticut Sun at Verizon Center, the Mystics (6-9) are four games behind first-place Atlanta in the Eastern Conference. Washington trails the Chicago Sky by a half-game for the fourth and final playoff spot with the season’s halfway point fast approaching.
The Mystics are coming off an 81-70 victory over the San Antonio Silver Stars at AT&T Center on Tuesday. In ending its season-long four-game skid, Washington shot 51 percent, had four players reach double figures and made 12 of 13 free throws.
Second-year guard-forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt scored 15 points to lead the Mystics, who never trailed in the fourth quarter. Forward Emma Meesseman, also in her second season, had 10 points and 13 rebounds for her second double-double this season, and rookie center Stefanie Dolson added 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting with four rebounds despite a sore knee.
“We have to just continue the streak we have so far,” point guard Ivory Latta said. “We just have to continue to get better each and every day and like Coach said, if they give us a scouting report and give us certain assignments, we have to just stick to it and trust that it’s going to work for us.”
Washington starts a three-game homestand by facing an opponent with the longest active winning streak in the league. The Sun (8-6) has won six straight and sits a game and a half out of first place, although the franchise Thibault coached for 10 seasons is 1-3 on the road this season.
Friday’s game also marks a homecoming of sorts for Sun rookie Alyssa Thomas, who two months ago led Maryland to its first Final Four since 2005-06. The No. 4 pick in the WNBA draft finished her career in College Park as the Terrapins’ career leader in scoring and rebounding and has her jersey hanging from the rafters at Comcast Center.
In her eighth start, Thomas scored a season-high 23 points and had 11 rebounds during Connecticut’s 79-69 win over the Sky on Wednesday night. Thomas’s minutes have been on the rise as well with regular starting guard Allison Hightower nursing a sprained knee.
Thomas is “a tough match,” Sun Coach Anne Donovan said. “She doesn’t have the quickest feet or the best handle, but she has one of the biggest motors in the women’s game.”